The Celebrities of Christian Justice and Their Abuser Dynamics

I was talking to my fiancee about this well-understood dynamic we have in Christianity, where since the church prioritizes forgiveness and repentance/redemption, it is also a haven for abusers of all varieties and stripes, but particularly male abusers of children and women. When their aggressions come to light, they are treated as grave-but-forgivable sins. The person who has committed the offense merely needs to act contrite in front of the church leaders and maintain that God has forgiven him.

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If God has forgiven the repentant abuser, we are assured, then who do we believe we are to not do likewise? We are sinning against God. And moreso against redemption – this idea supposedly unique to Christianity that those who have done wrong can be made right again; those broken can be fixed; sold can be bought back.

Testimony time in the fundamentalist and evangelical church is rife with people who once were lost and now are found. And the more lost they were, the more attractive their stories. We celebrate the bad-boys-gone-good. For if God could change a murderer, God is still good, right?

While not exactly the same formula is used in progressive circles, there is still this stretch, this application, this remnant of redemption. Redemption is a prize over safety. It’s sexier. If the church area is justice-oriented, well, even better.

Justice-oriented spaces prioritize messengers who are also redeemed.

The man who -despite all odds – became a feminist and is now a national leader and speaker on feminism.

The white guy who teaches – for a price – how to not be racist.

The spousal abuser who speaks, and writes against violence.

How much brave.

Much counterintuitive.

Many brilliant.

Too many redemptive.

Many terrified

God used a donkey. God used Saul of Tarsus. God can use them. – We’re told. Time and again.

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But these redemption stories aren’t quite… redemptive. They don’t encourage repentance, but cheap grace. Redemption is something earned – the traitor has to earn (back) trust, not authority and responsibility. They can make things right, possibly, but it is up to those they have wronged to decide that.

To do so minimizes those hurt the most and tells them that they are not safe in these spaces.

Then what kind of Christianity are we enacting?

What sort of justice are we fighting for?

One that prizes the powerful over those who they’ve disempowered. Those with megaphones against those they’ve devoiced. We prize the very ones we are supposed to be fighting against because they have done a great job of presenting this image as protectors of the powerless. So good that they cannot allow messages that counter their narrative to be loose out there on the internet.

The Women Are Not Pious; They Understand Grief and Loss

I went to church on Good Friday. There’s something about the day and the season, about meditation, about sorrow and joy, death and rebirth. It’s always been one of my top – if not my top – holidays. Even for my advanced ADD, it helps to have a special frame and place where I can focus, if only for a few minutes at a time. Today, we were invited to sojourn and visit among artistic representations of the stations of the cross. And I could only make it to three of them before I was overloaded. One thought I had in particular centered around the station known as Jesus meeting the daughters of Jerusalem:

A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’

Luke 23:27-29 NIV

Pietro Lorenzetti’s fresco of women following Jesus on Via Dolorosa, Assisi, 1320 via Wiki

I think of the mothers in my community who have lost and continue to lose their children to the state violence of the Prison Industrial Complex. I think of how overfilled Cook County Jails is, of mothers grieving the loss of their children to a system that chews them up and spits them out as a means of maintaining a permanent underclass. Most of our incarcerated are political prisoners, like Jesus, and mothers grieve for their loved ones.

The incarnate was incarcerated, died the death of political prisoners. And what is prison if not death – if not a ripping from economic, familial, social, psychological, intellectual, communal life?

The sin that Jesus bore on the cross was not the sin of intentions and “impure thoughts”. It was the sin of the world – which is to say that what killed Jesus was Empire. Empire’s sins – of control, domination, abuse, purposeful poverty, incarceration – of throwing lives away and deeming entire populations worthless.

These are the reasons Jesus died. Christians picking up their crosses is not about piety. It is about identifying with the most oppressed and marginalized. This is the message of Good Friday through Holy Saturday.

And it drastically effects how we interpret Easter and afterwards as well.

White Liberalism and Muslims

Sometimes the difference between liberals and conservatives really isn’t that far. In The Nation, while reviewing White Liberal thought that led to increased incarceration of black people during the last fifty years, Willie Osterweil made the point that White conservatives don’t believe that racism exists but fundamentally believe that race does. White liberals, however, believe that racism exists, but not race. American liberalism is rooted in individualism and has a difficult time seeing past that, even while it makes sweeping generalizations. I think the same can be said for White/Western liberals and conservatives irt Muslims and Islam.

White conservatives think that Muslims (as in the people of color – North Africans, Sub-saharan Africans, Middle Easterners, Central Asians, etc.) are savages and so their religion reflects that. White liberals will say that Muslims aren’t savages naturally, it’s just that their religion makes them that way.

It’s a blood-thin line, you see.

Outside of the racism (which neither will admit to, arguing that Islam is a religion and ignoring the fact that the vast majority of its adherents are non-White), this view of Muslims as point-of-fact savage in one way or another is justification for endless war. While the endless war is a tool of empire and capitalism, it needs to be justified to a population that sees itself as civilized. The Myth of Civilization in fact needs an alter ego, a demon – the uncivilized. The Other. The foreigner. The Oriental.

Edward Said would look at the vast majority of portrayals of Muslims through popular entertainment and news media and would not be at a loss. In the 1990’s, even before the mass upgrade of the Military Industrial Complex’s to the permanent War on Terror, even before the literal bombardment of Muslims through perpetual foot soldiers, mercenaries, US-based oil companies, and drones, Muslims were exotified, other-ized, villified, barbarianized in the popular US imagination through movies and pop culture (in much the same way Natives have been within this land through popular imagination, through the Cowboys and Indians mythos of traveling road shows and John Wayne movies and Tonto-ism). The Oklahoma City bombing was first blamed on Muslim extremism. Muslims and Middle Easterners were and are the easy villains of popular imagination – from Blackhawk Down to Alladin‘s Jafar to the literally faceless hordes gunned down by Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Popular media primed the Western mind for the War on Terror.

Now every terrorist attack – whether domestic or international – is blamed matter-of-factly on Muslims and Islam. It doesn’t matter that most of the victims of terror done by extremist Muslims are Muslim. White Conservatives will blame Muslims while White Liberals will blame Muslim Extremists – by which they mean REAL Muslims.

Christians and Atheists and Jews get to come in various forms and in different aspects with vastly different worldviews within their prospective religions (or lack-of-religions). But not Muslims. Because Muslims are Orientalized, they are simplified. In this imagination, there are, at most, Good Muslims and Bad Muslims just as, in the popular White imagination, there are Good Black people and Bad Black people. The Good ones are like us. The Bad want to kill us.

There are of course concerns within the wide world of majority-Muslim countries. There are concerns within Islam. Patriarchy and gendered violence is strong in many of these regions. And there are many attendant factors within that which shock Westerners. But shocking does not preclude the fact that very similar things happen in our own shores and next door and possibly in our own homes. Domestic violence is rampant in the US and in every demographic. Every day, three women are killed by intimate partners in the US. These are de facto honor killings. Domestic violence happens predominantly and exponentially in impoverished communities. It is nine times more likely to happen among the poorest in the States than among the richest. So, community and resource investment is important. So is dismantling patriarchy. But this must be internal. Sending poor people from here who are already predispositioned to violence (due to economic and psycho-socio violence perpetuated on them through generations upon generations) is a perverse practice of perpetuity. American violence is exported to the Middle East, intensified and imported back again to the American household and against our own women.

There is an irony that one of the primary justifications for anti-Muslim violence is to free women from the oppression of Islamic violence, forgetting that we are also bombing and killing Muslim women. Through the pretense of fighting for the independence of women, anti-Muslim fears welcome and perpetuate anti-women violence both home and abroad.

Yet talk of “spreading democracy” and freeing them from their own oppression is not just meaningless, it is in itself an act of violence. White liberals who say this are advocating the same “blow it all to smithereens” policies that white conservatives argue for. A democracy that is forced on the people through warfare is no democracy. It is colonialism and despotism.

That seems a lesson that is not just difficult for White Conservatives but for White Liberals as well. But then whiteness is, after all, primarily colonial, primarily conquering, primarily about supremacy.

Chief Illiniwek and Tradition

A high school basketball game between two rivals in Central Illinois was going to highlight the return of the very racist Chief Illiniwek.* The Chief, an epically offensive mascot that the University of Illinois put out of its misery after appeals by students, Native American groups, and finally the NAACP forced its greedy little hands, is still a popular favorite among white sports lovers in my own Illinois who claim it is a part of their tradition and should be honored as such. It’s a racist tradition they are still proud of.

Still. In 2015.

uhWHUT?

uhWHUT?

Ever ask a Southerner why they sometimes carry the Confederate Battle Flag as a sign of pride? Usually they answer like Accidentally Racist Brad Paisley – it’s a sign of respecting their tradition. And this is where you cue Fiddler on the Roof. Tradition is a good thing, right? We should all honor our forbearers and ancestors. But what happens when the tradition being honored isn’t really yours in the first place? Or the tradition that you’re honoring has more to do with ending the traditions and cultures of countless people? In light of the awfully racist University of Illinois’s Native Mascot “Chief Illini” being resurrected at local high schools in central Illinois and all of the white people defending this, let’s talk about traditions.

Before we go any further, we should clarify that there is no good analogy in this scenario. When sports teams take the names and images of First Nations – like the Tomohawk Chop or Chief Illiniwek – it’s not just offensive or politically incorrect. It’s not even just oppressive. It is an act of genocide. So there is no good comparison to be made in the US. Maybe with Israel and Palestine, but even there it’s not quite the same. So the comparisons made here should be read with that context, I think, and not be made into memes.)

My inheritance legacy is a mixture of Puerto Rican, Irish and other European roots (including English and Dutch), many of which have been in the US dating back to the Revolutionary War. So I’m thinking of translating, loosely, what kind of “honor” these sports fans give to Native Americans into how I’d see them as a Puerto Rican, as an Irish lad, as a poor white guy.

When I think about the R*dsk*ns and the Chiefs and the Fighting Illini (which, by the way, the Illini nation was peace-loving and not a warrior tribe), although I cannot personally relate and any similarities fall short, I think of how I felt hearing white people referring to my grandmother as a “sp*c.” I can only begin to imagine the caricatures, the ridiculous movements that Anglos would practice. Dressing up in brown-face, yelling “WAAYYYYYPA!” as a battle cry. Acting drunk and eating tacos (which is not a Puerto Rican cuisine in the least) because that’s how they imagine Puerto Ricans acting. The mascot would be a toad (instead of the traditional island frog coquí) or a dancing gang member out of West Side Story. The anthem would be “Everything is free in America.” What if the opposing teams had signs of Teddy Roosevelt taking the hills of San Juan? I mean, yay USA “freeing” brown people from Europeans by conquest and giving the land to the much more civil USA. “Freedom.”

Now, would this be somebody’s legacy? Of course it would. It would be the legacy of racist people. It would be the tradition of coopting, mockery, misrepresentation, oppression and money-making. This is what racism is! Their memory is being honored here because it’s obviously not Boriquas. In fact, it is a memory – but it’s a painful one that still stings.

I’m wondering what it would be for the English to similarly “honor” the Irish. What if their soccer teams to have names like the Starving Irish to honor the memory of the great potato famine? Their mascots can be the leprechaun from Lucky Charms or the slasher flicks1. Or it could be drunken men stooping around and saying nonsense. It could be

People will bring up the Fighting Irish at this point. And while it is a caricature, Notre Dame is an Irish institution deciding to poke fun at their own selves and point to an Irish legacy in such a way. There is a tremendous distinction between a people deciding to poke light fun at themselves and finding humor in their collective memory and one where the murderers, those who have been sending their children off to war or starving them or denying them of decent housing and life take those caricatures. One is finding meaning in suffering – the other is denying meaning through suffering.

Another legacy I share is that of poor white family. So I imagine if rich people were to have horse jockey teams called The Rednecks or White Trash. That would be different than poor white people declaring their affinity for those titles (one I don’t share). In fact, poor white people’s pride for the names were originally an act of defiance against the disdain of Yankees and upper middle class folks. Again we must ask, whose legacy is served by these icons? Likely, the people who have kept poor white people in their “place”.

Some traditions need to be thrown away and tossed in the fire. Especially when they’re murderous.

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*The halftime show – which was set between two high school teams whose names and logos are also anti-Native American mascotry, The Tuscola Warriors and the Sullivan R*dsk*ns – has been canceled. The Tuscola school district did not cancel out of any sense of human decency but out of safety concerns. Which is one of the more racist things I’ve heard. Teach them early, right?

5th Column and the Way to Peace: A #CheapPeace Synchroblog

Note: This is my second of two additions in the second edition of the #NewPacifism Synchroblog hosted by Rod at Political Jesus. This edition is called Cheap Peace.

In the last blog I argued in a footnote that while the Christian Pacifist class may do a good job of critiquing the Security State abroad, there is no workable critique of the Security State in the domestic level. I propose this is for a variety of reasons. First, Evangelicals overwhelmingly voted in George W Bush and his culture of war, and re-established him even after he and his neocon buddies showed the true face of their “compassionate” Christianity and just what kind of “democracy” they were exporting (and thus importing back into the US as well). So the Christian Pacifist focus on the War on Terror is an important critique. And because this critique was so little heard in the very White and thus Republican Evangelical churches, it caught on with a largely younger generation. In effect, taking on this message became profitable and popular. But it was also easier than critiquing the very essence of the White middle class existence.

This White Middle Class existence is built upon Black enslavement, Indigenous extermination, Brown deportation, racial-economic segregation and gentrification. The largest motivator for these actions is fear. Fear of a Black planet; fear of a Brown county. We readily see fear in not just conservative but liberal and progressive utterances in regards to People of Color. Hives. Muslim Terrorists. Crack babies. Thugs. Infestation. All terms dehumanizing POC. Even the idea of the “Model Minority” puts unrealistic and inhuman expectations on East Asians – using them as objects and props in the neverending socio-psychological war against Black people and other, less-desirable minority groups.

So the disconnect is so wide between the White World created on the energy of fear and the Black and Brown worlds controlled and to a degree defined by that same energy that it’s easy to see why White Christian Pacifists will not tackle domestic racism – it’s alien because they are a part of White Supremacist system and because Cheap Peace comes easy. In the American consumer culture, peace is merely another product that can be – under the right people – wished and spoken into existence. So the cries for Peace, Peace they cried upon Ferguson in the wake of the non-verdict were not cynical, but sincere and genuine. And that is the problem. They seem to actually believe that peace can be achieved abroad or domestically without tearing down the very systems that benefit them in the process. They actually believe that peace is merely a state of mind, and that they – being predominantly white and male – can institute that state of mind. It’s a colonial state of mind.

Riot Police in the Field, Peace - Banksy

Riot Police in the Field, Peace – Banksy

Even Banksy tends to have this neoliberal view.

And as Fanon points out, decolonization is an act of violence because colonization is an act of violence. This is why those who speak for the recognition of the humanity of black people in the framework of White Supremacist America are viewed as “race-baiters” and “racial instigators”. Notice that within this work I – as an identifiably white male – am never referred to as an animal (that distinction would go to my grandmother, friends and neighbors, I suppose), but merely as a trouble-maker. Christian pacifists do not like trouble because it makes things harder for them. Their work is in the speech acts and speech acts need Searlian contexts in order to be effective. The speech acts must be presented at the right time, in the right place, with the right set of words (or their acceptable approximates), and be agreed upon by all acting participants. For someone to reject the call of peace means that the peace-keeper has failed and must go it again. But the lack of peace isn’t due to the fact that the peace-speaker wasn’t working – it’s a result of uncooperative people (usually people of color, of course).

This is of course the essence of Cheap Peace. When Bonhoeffer critiqued Cheap Grace, he was speaking on such matters – grace given as a proximate, as a speech act when none was appropriate. Grace was given by the church over a murderous, genocidal, nationalistic state. His Lutheran church sanctified the Third Reich just as the White American Churches sanctify the White Supremacist code. To reject such is to reject peace. Is to stir up trouble.

This last week I was called a “racial instigator and 5th Column Marxist” by an ex-FBFriend. I joked – as one does – about adding these titles to my CV. I’ve already been long convinced that what the White Church needs is more racial instigation, as its complacency and silence breeds violence just as the Lutheran church’s did in the 1930’s and 40’s. In looking up what a ‘fifth column’ is, however, I was rather stoked. It is this idea of sabotage, of taking down a city or fortress from inside its own walls. I will gladly do that to capitalism, if I could. I will spread the very real news that capitalism is a great evil that is capitulated on the value of private property over the value of human lives. If that is not a fundamentally Christian morality, the one Jesus spoke of to the Rich Young Ruler, I do not know what is. Isn’t radicalism fundamentally instigation and sabotage? To work within the city of corruption and death and destruction to bring it to collapse? If the White American Church runs on a capitalist model (and it does) that benefits White Americans while silencing the voices of those on the margins, it needs to be brought down. It needs to be invaded. Perhaps the word closest to mind would be infested.

But even if the White Pacifist Christians speak out against injustice in and of their communities and silence their own hushing techniques, are they willing to uproot the systems that cause sustained, traumatic violence at home? Are they willing to strike simultaneously against not just the Military Industrial Complex, but against Heteropatriachy1? Not just against the Prison Industrial Complex, but capitalism? Not just that #BlackLivesMatter as a slogan in the same way that the professional anti-abortion industry co-opts the message that all lives are precious to God, but in a theologically robust and comprehensive way that the likes of James Falwell, Chuck Colson, and Operation Rescue never ever comprehended?

The Security State is in place to protect White Middle Class American fears. Is it not the job of Christian theology – and certainly any pacifist view based on that theology – to erase fear with hope and love? And if love in action is the work of justice (I argue it is), and if we recognize that peace does not exist outside of justice, instigate. Instigate!

It is cheap to maintain the status quo at home while demanding change abroad.

This is Cheap Peace. The fact that lives are cheap and that all we need to do is say some words about how lives are treated over there by our government. But very little critique is here, at home. Peace is cheap and shouldn’t cost us some businesses, right?

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1Patriachy is the logic that naturalizes social hierarchy. Just as men are supposed to dominate women on the basis of “natural” biology, so too should the social elites of a society naturally rule everyone else through a nation-state form of governance that is constructed through domination, violence and control. Patriarchy, in turn, is presumed a heteronormative gender binary system. Thus, as Ann Burlen argues in Lift High the Cross, it may be a mistake that the goal of Christian Right politics is to create a theocracy in the United States. Rather, CRp work through private family (which is coded as white, patriarchal, and middle class) to create a “Christian America.” She notes that the investment in the private family serves to make it more difficult for people to invest in more public forms of social connection. In addition, investment in the suburban private family serves to mask the general disinvestment in urban areas that makes the suburban lifestyle possible. The social decay in urban areas that results from this disinvestment is then construed as the result of deviance from the white, Christian family ideal rather than as the result of political and economic forces.

  • Andrea Smith, “Dismantling the Master’s Tools with the Master’s House: Native Feminist Liberation Theologies.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (22:2), Fall 2006, p 96.

Rioting, Property and Christian Pacifism: A #CheapPeace Synchroblog

Note: This is my first of two additions in the second edition of the #NewPacifism Synchroblog hosted by Rod at Political Jesus. This edition is called Cheap Peace.

Without reprieve, White people talk about the current American-wide protests – rising up since the tragic, police-led murders of unarmed black men and women and then the tragic non-prosecutions of their murderers – as if they are an inconvenience, a negative, a force of destruction themselves. This is a thought expressed by a scarily large amount of White Evangelicals and Christian Pacifists. It is also common for white people sympathetic to the cause (including White Evangelicals and Christian Pacifists) of racial justice to turn the debate around back to the unjust killings themselves. And we draw the focus to the peaceful protests, the candle vigils, the portraits of white and black and brown people of all shades and ages and sizes gathering together and staging die-ins together and white police officers hugging little black children and…

While this is not a wrong approach, per se, what if in a sense the detractors are right? What if what they deem to be ‘violent’1 actions were allowed to stand on their own? What if they were the only reactions; how would we assess that? What if – as Amaryah Shae so brilliantly argued – we allowed the tension that the lootings and burnings and traffic inconveniences are legitimate not just as reactions but as clear philosophical and ethical responses to how White America (which includes our protectorate forces, the military and police) treats Black Americans and blackness?

Sunset with burning building

Petteri Sulonen – Sunset with burning building via Flickr

 

Can Christian pacifists allow2 for that kind of reaction to stand on its own? Or would it be dismissed as “inherently violent” while little is said about the fact that White America, which includes White Evangelicalism and White Christian Pacifism, views Black people as property: as mere items to be worked, sorted, utilized, discarded, burned.

Which is more violent? Actions that lead to the destruction of a national chain store or justification of the propertification of races of people?

The underlying narrative of anti-black racism is that Black people are slaveable (cf, Andrea Smith again) and as such, are property. Property (including the Property-ness of Black Bodies) is only worth possession and monetary value. It is obvious that some property is worth more than others.  White Supremacy is thus confused even as it makes its arguments:

How does property fight back? How does property destroy property?

White Supremacy is trying to negotiate the terms and conditions of the property value of Black Bodies, using police forces and the justice system to do so. So the act of black people destroying personal property is to say that Black lives matter more so than mere personal property3.

Which I see in a very different realm also happening re: Immigration. Brown bodies are at constant risk of deportation in order to keep costs of production down and in order to continue the wheels of capitalism unabated. Smith notes that capitalism is a perpetual death machine needing the slaveability of black people, the otherness (and therefore war and deportation of) Brown people and the continual genocide and land-theft of indigenous peoples. If they were to be paid just wages, then the system could not sustain itself as it were.

This is what mass incarceration and gentrification are in Black & Latin@ communities: Disruption as price negotiation. How can Black and Latin@ communities fight back and demand livable wages and just treatment, White Supremacy has reasoned, if they can’t organize?

As soon as the poor and people of color – and especially poor people of color – organize, the police arrive to reestablish the order.

As soon as they organize unions, union-busting cops show up. As soon as they organize underground economies (as the above-ground economies are not open to them), cops lock them up at rates 20:1. As soon as they organize as working communities in the hood and reclaim their wealth, gentrification comes and the sheriff is at the door. As soon as they organize on the street, the police and the National Guard come to impose curfews, arrest on trussed up charges, throw tear gas at people and canisters at homes (oh, but the Christian Pacifists were mum about this!), to make the simple act of protesting illegal and deem it counter-productive. A constitutionally-guaranteed right is criminalized for Black and Brown folks. But that’s alright as the US Constitution was never for black or brown folk (Consider the very different responses between White and Black people carrying guns in open spaces). Brown people had the land, black people had the work. Out of this was born capitalism.

To claim, as the conservatives and would-be peacemakers do, that less-than-docile protests are counterproductive, is to say that People of Color can only be effective when they are docile. It is to claim that the lives of Cameron Tillman, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Shelley Frey are not worthy of a full expression of human emotions and are themselves worth less than spilled milk. Because property is to be coerced into easy organization.

In fact, Ms. Frey was killed over shoplifting. Mr. Garner for selling loosies. Mr. Brown allegedly for stealing a cheap cigar. Every day, billions of dollars are stolen by bankers and traders through derivatives, federal-guaranteed school loans, and foreclosing homes. On the rare occasion they are charged, their penalty is but a point of a fraction of a percent what they take in. And yet black lives are snuffed out for the slightest provocation. If they go willingly, they are jailed and bail is set at exorbitant rates – so of course black people overpopulate jails when bonds are set at several hundred dollars for lifting a bar of soap, several times the property wealth that black people have.

Garner, Frey and Brown resisted being treated like property in both why they were approached by the police and how they interacted by the police. And they were killed for these infractions. The message is clear: Black people must stay in their lanes. The line must be toed at all costs.

And this message is relayed millions upon millions of times an hour – not just on social media and in the recesses of White Supremacist Internets – but in the very fabric of the White Supremacy framework of America. It is the stuff of White and Black interaction with police, with authorities, with regards to political action, mass media, written and oral histories, the apartheid system of public and private education and the overwhelmingly White face of higher education.

How do we make peace with this? Not through compliance or complacency. Not through respecting the order of things when respecting the order means that People of Color are to be managed like property – like chattel that needs to be corralled and put down if defiant.

By decrying private property destruction, the Cheap Peace of Christian Pacifism prioritizes the matter of capitalism and buildings over the matter of black lives. As if they cannot or will not ask which is worth more.

It is much more expensive to realize that businesses are predicated on a system of economics built upon black slavery – of control and theft – and native genocide – through Black bodies and Brown lands in order to establish White capital. Because that would mean a fundamental shift of order. And that doesn’t seem very peaceful.

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1I do not see the point of rehashing this, but fine: People are more important than property. If damage to property causes actual harm to people, then it is violence as far as that extends and only as far as that extends. This must be weighed by context, including the fact that people tend to not listen until shit starts flying sometimes. As Willie James Williams says,

Only in a distorted world turned completely into commodity, could a life be weighed against private property. Yet we hear constantly the comparison between loss of life and the destruction of property as though these things are on the same plane of moral existence. Black life has always lost out in that calculus, because the ideas of law and order have overwhelmingly been orientated toward the protection of property and not black bodies. Christianity in America has much too often served as the high priest of this sick reality of law and order, too quickly aligning our biblical visions of sin and punishment to ideas of crime and punishment, and lending our support to forms of policing that are betrothed to the control of space and married to violence.

2Christian Pacifism is largely if not utterly detached from the world of here-and-now violence that the very communities it exists in perpetuates on their own Black and Brown neighbors – on my next door neighbors. They can speak mightily about the manufactured safety of the War on Terrorism (and it is a needed voice within Evangelicalism), but that becomes easier as it is distant. I have seen zero evidence of a critique of the war on safety for suburban communities – ie, Crime & Punishment and the War on Drugs that targets, literally, black bodies as a precipice for capitalist security. But more on that in the next blog.

3Amaryah has a much-more thought-out perspective than mine, vis-a-vis personal property and the property of black bodies:

[P]rivate property [is] the invention that produces public property, which is black flesh. And this production of public property as blackness is the production of its profitability as its expendability. Darren Wilson received 500k in support of his defense of this division of property, paid leave, a marriage celebration, and a public interview to top it off.

Is it any surprise, then, that so many public services, schools, healthcare, WIC, etc., have been made synonymous with black people and thus able to be hollowed out, evacuated, defunded, disregarded? This is precisely how poor black flesh is treated by the state.

Continuing Settler Colonialism into the 21st Century

 

chicago- logan square

Heather Phillips via Flickr (Logan Square, Chicago)

 

Scholar and activist Andrea Smith talks about colonialism and the disappearance of the Indigenous as one of the three pillars of White Supremacy. In this type of logic, the indigenous is constantly being removed from the land so that the settler can claim rights to it. We see it in Western myths about the Bad and Savage Indians and in current myths about the Terrorist Palestinian. We see it in the mascotry of Indian peoples, customs, costumes, and tribes for sports teams, and in the appropriation of spiritual practices of Native peoples.

To expand a bit further: Gentrification is a form of and repetition of settler colonialism. Which is to say that gentrification is a method of stealing land and disappearing native peoples from their property, institutions, history, and even cultures. It’s wealthier, typically white people actively disappearing poorer, typically people of color from their lands and their own communities. The similarities do not end there, though. When we try to argue that gentrification is actually a bad thing, white pro-gentrification forces argue that they are there to improve the neighborhoods. The implication argument, is that people of color and their cultures and institutions are intrinsically inferior. They will ask for proof of the worth of black and brown communities and receipts as if the only piece of value is how much to get from real estate. As if the only thing Black and Latino folk do is gang-bang1 and sell drugs. And as if those are more violent actions than intentional financial destabilization and wealth-denying of white institutions of power for the last five hundred and twenty years.

People of color as individuals, as communities, as institutions are not trusted to have value. Their restaurants and churches and businesses schools2 and social clubs are bulldozed, swept out, shut down, overcome because they are judged inferior by the very forces that want them removed. Settler colonialism needs to continually harvest cheap workers, and so keeps destabilizing the communities of its cheap labor force so as to keep them disorganized, to keep them from demanding more, to keep them from speaking of injustice in ways that will eventually lead to justice.

Are white people ok with these acts of displacement, whether they occur in Australia, or Bolivia, or Palestine/Israel, or Humboldt Park, Chicago3, or within the mostly White missional and emergent church experiences, because we’ve never made peace with the fact that we have and are constantly disappearing Native people from North America? In the process of stealing their lands and constantly stealing their lands, we have said that their forms of education were not adequate, so we put them in the first public schools, with the aim of enculturating them to Middle Class Euro-American values and ways of seeing and doing. When we did not actively work to physically and psychologically erase and shame their languages and customs from existence.

And this process continues, and is always continuing. In the same ways where Israeli propaganda claims that Palestine was not an actual possessed land outside of Jewish occupants and that there is no such thing as  Palestinians; in the same way that the First Nations did not have rights to the land since they did not operate by European laws and feudalities; in the same way that White missional churches enter into heavily churched Black and Brown neighborhoods to “bring the Gospel”; in the same way that children are being adopted out of Indian Country and into White families; so White hipsters, investment bankers, real estate agents, business bureaus, city halls, and developers converge to continually erase the identities and culture and institutions of Black and Brown communities to turn a profit and keep poor people in line.

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1 Remember that the KKK was the first and the biggest racialized gang. Remember also that POC gangs in the Northern urban centers grew out of reaction to the strolling and violent actions of white gangs entering into black and Latino neighborhoods looking for black and Latino youths to beat up.

2 In one year, Chicago’s Mayor Emanuel closed down fifty elementary schools – almost every last one having a population made up almost entirely of Black and Latino students. Almost all of them in poor black neighborhoods. But two of these neighborhood schools were closed in Humboldt Park, where gentrification is building steam. A neighborhood middle school in West Logan Square (also on the fast track for gentrification) that had seen huge investment from the community and was a source of pride and joy for all was turned into a military academy against the community’s wishes. Because we can’t trust non-violent forms of Latino organizing and educating.

3 Where I grew up and there was no investment from white people then. But years later, a white coffeehouse owner would ask me if the neighborhood was getting better while White Supremacist Fox News was playing overhead on his screens

Not Jesus

Here Are Your Prophets

This is what the Lord says:

    “You false prophets are leading my people astray!
You promise peace for those who give you food,
    but you declare war on those who refuse to feed you.
Now the night will close around you,
    cutting off all your visions.
Darkness will cover you,
    putting an end to your predictions.
The sun will set for you prophets,
    and your day will come to an end.
Then you seers will be put to shame,
    and you fortune-tellers will be disgraced.
And you will cover your faces
    because there is no answer from God.”

But as for me, I am filled with power—
    with the Spirit of the Lord.
I am filled with justice and strength
    to boldly declare [the colonizer’s] sin and rebellion.

Micah 3 (New Living – with slight paraphrase)

The more famous passage of Micah, where your sons and daughters will prophesy, follows this passage. We find where the prophets are when we dismiss the so-called prophets of the kings and queens – the appeasers. Those who disguised their words uplifting the oppressive systems of the halls of power, of destruction, of war, of racism, of sexism, as the Word of the Lord. Who sell their images as God-speakers, yet what they have to say sounds oddly and eerily what the powerful already say.

Not Jesus

Not Jesus

One of the hallmarks of living in a kyriarchy economy is how easily and quickly the lower social stratus can be dispelled from sight and community with the elite groups. We can colonize, we can take the land and work and bodies, and then throw aside their personhood through colonialism and heteropatriarchy. This makes it easy for elites – for white, middle class, able-bodied, neurotypical males above all – to dismiss criticism and malign prophets.  For what are the dispossessed if not prophets? Do they not speak the Word of the Lord to the Kings and Queens?

Fortunately, we now live in the digital age and the voice(s) of the prophets are everywhere. So when a white male pastor asks where all the prophets have gone, he is missing the picture: they are here. Here is your family of prophetic voices. They speak with passion and knowledge and wisdom and joy and hope and anger and resentment and frustration and within community and from outside the very community they have been cast from. Meanwhile, the white heteropatriarchy asks why they can’t be nicer, why they don’t work within the very kingdom they have been cast from?

If you want the voice of God, it is not to be found in mass media (cf, pt 3), whose ultimate purpose is to support the hegemony of White Culture and consumer capitalism. You may find it in Dexter or Breaking Bad or True Detective, but these are shows of violent white males and I’m not sure how that is much different than other predominant White Male Supremacy voices of Dick Cheney, Exxon Mobil, or penal substitutionary theory (Nothing But the Blood, indeed).

Yet these same people will call Liberation Theologians “ultimately violent”* for loudly resisting the kyriarchy and will proclaim or accept the title of prophet for themselves. They will make racist, sexist, homophobic utterances about the very people they dispossess from the lands. They will talk about how inclusive they are, and how racially conscious and wow what Jesus Feminists they are, but promote White Males all day long.  They will present themselves as lgbtq allies while not just blocking LGBTQ people (but will engage with homophobes all day long), but talk about trans people as having a sexual preference, refer to “a gay lifestyle” and “sin” and say (repeatedly) that the “purpose for marriage equality is to promote lifelong monogamy, which is preferential for everybody.”

zhoag homosexual lifestyle and sin trans orientation

Did I say they block LGBTQ people? Yes. Yes they do. In fact, they block People of Color, feminists, and their accomplices – any critic who doesn’t take kindly to being tokenized and co-opted. Any prophet who will not kowtow to the White Supremacist, Heteronormative Patriarchal Structure of the White Western Church. This is because the kyriarchy is not used to being talked back to in such tones, so they will consider it an act of violence [link to Zahnd’s tweet on liberation theology being violent; other suggestions?]. You want to know where the prophets are? They are right here, but your mute button has put them on silence.

It is an act of intentional cultural genocide. In this manner, they act as Ahabs, erasing prophets from the land for the fear of being confronted with their participation in the White Supremacist, Heteronormative, Neoliberal Patriarchy.

Speak out!

Speak Out! by Chris Schluep, via Flickr You can watch UNICEF video here: http://www.theoneminutesjr.org/

And yet they have the gall to call themselves, endorse others who call them, and then call others that also look like them as “prophets” and “prophetic”, “called you in this time“. They use prophecy as a branding tool rather than a way of God speaking to the powers, to the oppressors, as Amos and Daniel did.

The Empire cannot prophecy to the Empire. White middle class heterosexual men are the Empire in this society. Rather, the sons and daughters of the dispossessed are your prophets.

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*Though Zahnd would later walk the statement back, he barely did so, in fact equating people’s revolutions (who were sometimes backed by Liberation Theology) with the violence of fascist regimes in Latin America that they were fighting against. But could we then not say that Euro-American theology is even more violent, since it has and continues to support genocide, war, and slavery? For more in-depth understanding of White Anabaptist approaches to Liberation Theology, cf Political Jesus’ “Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: A Subaltern Ethics Of Peace #AnaBlacktivism.”

Like a Wheel Within a Wheel: The Kyriarchy Economy

Kyriarchy is a way of understanding the interwoven systems of oppression and hierarchy – those of patriarchy, classism, heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, and ableism. It is one – albeit shortened – way to understand how solidarity can happen under such varied and disparate circumstances among people who are not supposed to get each other, let alone work together to dismantle specific oppressions. If the main tool of patriarchy is misogyny, though, I’d like to suggest that a main tool of and reason for (its MacGuffin, so to say) kyriarchy may be the economy – as it largely has existed, but particularly through capitalism. And a main tool of and reason for most economies is, in turn, the kyriarchy.

To not recognize that the capitalist economy and kyriarchy need and feed each other is to not recognize how either capitalism or kyriarchy exist and operate. It is to erase the impact and wealth that slavery, Jim Crow, and underpaid/unpaid domestic labor have been producing while managers and capitalists – those who have enough money to gamble on ventures and profit from those – are praised and rewarded for the work that others produce. Kyriarchy is both funded by and is skewed towards a warped economic reality in which those who work hardest and produce the most benefits have the least amount of wealth. Consider migrant harvesters and housewives – how would modern Western society survive without them?

Vintage Bank Vault

“Vintage Bank Vault” by Brook Ward via flickr

Of course the most obvious way this works – and yet still denied by much of the US – is that the closer one identifies with the kyriarchal ideal, the more capital one has – the more the economy favors that person. While not every white person is wealthy or even middle class, the more one is part of the predominant White, Middle & Upper Class, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Able-bodied and Psychologically Normed, Educated, and Male Elite structure, the more one has access to what Amaryah Shaye recently configured as “inheritances” – the more capital one has access to. This capital comes in monetary form (inherited wealth and the things one can do with that), educational form (not just blanket “education” as something to be picked up, but as a way of knowing how to respond in a specific culture and among a specific people who can get you nice things and as a way of presenting that culture and your work within that culture as being of utter value even though its real-world equivalence is pushing around numbers and may actually have negative influence upon the world), social form (knowing who is who and knowing the who’s who through familial relations), and even ethnic and racial capital. It is easier to gain trust with the Powers That Be if you were to talk like and look like and write like them.

The system works to keep the system – and the elites – in place. And those elites look a lot like those who show up as members of Congress and the Supreme Court and in the Oval Office, as political pundits, as board members of not only huge multinational corporations but also the non-profits they help fund, as Christian conference speakers, as history writers, as managers, as megachurch pastors, as police, as – yes – those who teach our children. They are the brokers and gatekeepers of the kyriarchy. The various institutions which they populate have as their primary function the guarding of the kyriarchy of which they are members.

We can see how Western Economies (all capitalist, whether large-scale capitalist like libertarian USA or small-scale capitalist like the social democracies of Northern Europe) have benefited from and are benefiting from what Andrea Smith calls the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Slave logic (via anti-Blackness), Genocide land-grabbing (anti-indigenous), and War (anti-Asian/Middle Eastern Orientalism). In the US, we recognize it as the land of Indian Country fueled by the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement and perennial lower-class-ness of Black people, and the perpetual wars in Those Countries of Orientalism to provide the fuel to continue the system of perpetual capitalism. The capital made from the land and bodies of the enslaved and disappeared, Smith argues, in turn, funds the perpetual state of war that the US is in. It’s a cyclical machine of economic enslavement. IOW, kyriarchy economy.

The kyriarchy economy needs heteropatriarchy in order to survive and has created this myth of the Nuclear Family in order to fuel its endless consumptive consumerism. It needs the families to stay intact so it makes it harder for women to survive apart from a male partner, and uses children (as bait/anchors), the church, and even extended families to prevent this dismantling, even in the face of severe physical violence and psychological abuse. This is how much it needs the future consumers that are children and the free labor that is provided by many women in these situations.

When the number of consumerist 1 Mom 2.5 Kids 1 Dad-To-Rule-Them-All Families started dying out, the Kyriarchy Economy stretches its borders to include middle class same sex marriages, but under the same auspices (Now you can have 2 Dads or 2 Moms with options to adopt). Not that this is a bad choice. People should have the option to join in or opt out as they choose. But notice how few rally around the cause of homeless LGBTQ youth, or trans rights in the workplace or public place. But Pride parades are increasingly being heteronormatified in order to be more open for Coca Cola and Target advertisements, even as leather pants are being erased.

However, this isn’t to say that kyriarchy only works in capitalism, but that capitalism is where we best see it exemplified. Many socialists and communists here in the States erase and ignore the plight of people of color, feminists, and other oppressed peoples, telling them that once the capitalist system is overthrown, then true equity will flow. But that is striving for an equality without justice, a racial and sexual hegemony without recognizing the present social realities that exist when brocialists try to take over pro-black solidarity rallies by erasing racial injustice and grievances from POC. They are instituting their own kyriarchy in a system they haven’t even realized and wondering why so few will join their cause. Precisely for the very reason that it is their cause and others are not welcomed.

The Error of Reconciliation Theology

 So watch yourselves!

If [a kin] sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that [brother/sister] wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.
Luke 17 (New Living Translation)

A young generation ago, White Evangelicalism came in contact with a firestorm of a soft-patriarchalist movement called Promise Keepers. Football stadiums were rented out and filled with men – all and only men – who would hear speeches by other men, mostly white about the need to redeem and reconcile. Men, we were told, need to redeem our rightful places as strong-but-gentle leaders in the household and the workplace. This wouldn’t be a redemption, of course, but merely a nicer-clothed pushback against the full humanity of women that the conservative church and religious right had been waging since the 1960’s. We can and should talk about the gender-segregated and what Sarah Moon refers to as Benevolent Sexism church modus later, but I want to focus on the reconciliation aspect.

At Promise Keepers events, White men were told – and rightly – that an unaccountable sin was of being distant from their brothers of color (notice that their is no intersection here. This is about what they considered the primary relationship, men-to-men). Tearful white men were challenged to turn to their black and brown brothers and seek forgiveness for racial sins that the White men never caught owned up to, never quite understood. But now they had the added benefit of making instant friends with people of another race and having their consciences wiped clean of corporate wrong-doings. So, White Evangelical men could go around saying “I have black friends!” while voting against the interests of their black friends. They could still push for incarceration and criminalization of black men; they could punish black women and families through welfare reform and slut-shaming; they could continue to marginalize Asian Americans by using them as Model Minority pawns against Latin@ and African Americans and, ultimately, against themselves; they could continue the eternal undergrounding of Latin@ communities; they can continue mascoting and erasing Native communities.

the final Cut

the final Cut – by Robb North via Flickr

While heaping praise upon themselves for welcoming non-Whites to worship and barbecue with them, White evangelicals could talk a big game about the work they’ve done to “bridge the gap” between White and “minority” peoples, but the only gap jumped was by the non-Whites. Whites have made no effort to de-center themselves, to weep where the sufferers weep, to grieve over and when oppressed people grieve, to join. Rather, under the auspices of “community” and “unity” White people put Black, Brown, and AAPI peoples in the situation of having to conform to White normalcy.

White normalcy, by the way, isn’t restricted to Fundamentalist or Evangelical situations. White normalcy is the underlying identity in a White Supremacist structure, in which most of the world under Euro-colonialism exists. So progressives (of the political and Christo-theological variety), liberals, Marxists, libertarians, all have to resist the dominant racism gene that places white people and white narratives and themes at the center even when talking about issues important to People of Color. And, let’s be straight, that is not happening a lot.

So, basically, White Christians are demanding that Christians of Color meet White Christians on White Christian ground, worship at a White Cross, come under a White Jesus.

As Amaryah Shae points out, the very notion of Christian racial reconciliation is flawed because it is always on White terms.

But Christian reconciliation, I argue, favors the dominant because it sees reconciliation and not justice as the virtue. Reconciliation theology holds that if two are separate, the separateness must be a sin in itself and the priority needs to be in removing the separation. Much of this comes from a bad reading of the Luke 17 passage above, somehow removing the very important prerequisite of repentance.

Additionally, it rips the forgiveness from its broader context. One socially above us who continues to berate, humiliate, and strike is not kin. Kin are on similar levels. As Gustavo Gutierrez and bell hooks have said, “Where there is no justice, there is no love. For there cannot be love among unequals.” That Jesus is represented in the bodies and experiences of those on the outskirts of society, the lives of the oppressed according to Matthew 25 and Matthew 5, and that we are blessed when we “mourn with those who mourn” and likewise serve and stand with and among the oppressed. As Sarah Moon (again) makes clear, when the abuser is welcome at the table, the survivor is not. When we privilege abusers, we disinvite their victims and tell them that they are not welcome. So while forgiveness – in its proper place and time – may be a good individual spiritual practice, it is bad universal policy.

Reconciliation Theology is harmful. It is not loving. It is not of God.

We see this in more predictable White male Christian calls to accept apologies from abusers, whether that person be a physically, mentally, or sexually abusive partner or spiritually and psychologically abusive pastor. Sexually abusive youth ministers are often forgiven and moved back into previous roles due to the pressure to always “forgive and see as Jesus sees and forgives.” We see this currently in Jonathan Merritt’s recent article “Why I Accept Mark Driscoll’s Apology… And You Should Too.” Leaving aside the fact that Merritt was not targeted by Driscoll’s rabid homoantagonism and misogyny and therefore doesn’t have much in the game to forgive, what the fuck gives him the power to compel Driscoll’s targets – parishioners, interlocutors, feminists, LGBTQI people – to forgive Driscoll?

Reconciliation Theology does. Again, it is the work of the put-upon, the marginalized, the oppressed to make the leap of faith. And again, that leap of faith is rewarded with a punch in the guts.

Reconciliation Theology has as its virtue reconciliation. Reconciliation, however, is a possible after-effect of justice come to a shattered relationship. (Notice there is an assumption of a relationship to heal in the first place. The emphasis should never be on the relationship because relationships are not static; they are not made in the image of God; they are not of eternal and divine value. People, on the other hand, are. And so what is needed is justice. Making the wrong right is the virtue and should be the goal.

And sometimes that goal means to NOT reconcile or even attempt reconciliation. Sometimes that reconciliation is the sin.

Being as an Act of Political Defiance

The other day, biking home from a late night show downtown, I was able to travel most of the time outside of the downtown region on a bike path. For a few blocks, the road was completely torn up and I reluctantly traveled slowly on the sidewalk. Waiting for the light at a major intersection three miles from home, I decided to reward myself with the remnants of dinner, a coconut doughnut from DD. But the car full of doodbr0s (of which at least one was a d00d-t00tsie?) behind me wasn’t having it. In a bike path section which at this section doubles as a right turn section for motor vehicles, I was expected to get out of their way.

And go where? I do not know. It’s not that I couldn’t have squeezed somewhere else, but this was my space. I got there first and I was merely waiting for the light to change. They could not bare the thought of being blocked from their next batch of beer by a guy on a twenty pound bicycle who would not bow down immediately to the mighty car and the mighty bros who wielded such power. And so they made it abundantly clear that I did not belong on the road. They honked. They yelled and cursed at me to get out their fucking way and get off the fucking road. Repeatedly. I responded but never gave them the satisfaction of turning around. After all, the road is mine too and I shouldn’t have to suffer abuse because some drunk people think my existence is an inconvenience.

It wasn’t the first time that someone tried to run me off the road or what little space is accredited to me and other bike riders. Traveling home from work one day, I had a car of young dudes nearly run me off the road. In this case, since there is no bike path on this road, I was already as far to the right as I could get, but that still wasn’t enough. They honked fiercely and I moved further and further to into parked cars, fearing for my life. Then when they got right in front of me, they vocalized their dissent at my existence. “Get the fuck out the way.”

These two incidents in combination with daily interactions with cars and vans that come just a bit too close for comfort on roads and bridges remind me that bicycle riding is not safe because, despite what the government says, roads are not made for bicycles. Sure, Augusta Ave has a bike path while Pulaski Ave doesn’t. But neither are really for bicycles. I travel down one route all the way because finding acceptable bike paths adds an extra four miles, and much of that territory despite being labeled “bike-friendly” is anything but friendly to me or my bicycle – completely ripped up roads, a bridge without traction, stretches set apart on the map but not in reality, and really, really foul stenches. Even bike paths are just afterthoughts. The roads are made for heavy, fast-moving vehicles and bicycle use and bicyclists are merely an addendum. Our existence isn’t really welcome, and I see that and recognize that.

bicycle race

Bicycle Race – Toby Gaulke via Flickr

I’ve already noted some parallels between how I’m treated being a cyclist for commuting purposes and how a White/Cis/Hetero/Capitalist Class/Able-Bodied/Neurotypical Supremacy culture treats marginalized and oppressed people who buck the system. But what should be noted is that the roads aren’t made for us. They may make concessions, but at the frame of convenience, they will let you know who is in charge and who does not really “belong” in the routes of power and currency.

It seems that drivers will not recognize us until we speak up and loudly. Until we take their aggression back on them. Until we mobilize. For if they only see a few of us, they can run us off the road .

And yet, we are told that we are too loud, too abrasive, too much, too wonky, too naked. Whether or not we obey rules of the road that were not made for us and do not accept us, we are demonized and pushed to the margins.

So, what to do besides give up? Because existence for many is a means of political resistance to the dominant powers. We scream and make our presence known from the margins of the road that we are here, that we are not sacrificial lambs, that we are worthy of respect, safe spaces, rights, justice. Our collective anger is justified – as is our collective joy. We rally, we network, we write our lawmakers, we push, we embody and demand space on these roads. And our “complaining” (as some are wont to call it) is an act of prophecy and justice seeking.

#SorryNotSorry if you’re worried about what the “right time” is, but my body is not on your time and not yours to negotiate. And still, I ride.